The Dwindling Capacity of the Yonge Subway

Yesterday’s launch by York Region of their Yonge Subway Now website brought to the fore the question of just how much room remains on the Yonge Subway for additional riders. Over many years, claims about capabilities of new subway technologies together with changing projections for future demand have left Toronto in a position where its subway is badly overloaded with little relief in sight.

This article traces the evolution of those claims and the reality of what can actually be provided to show that building a Relief Line is not a project for a future decade but one that must begin now.

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York Region Wants a Subway, Overstates Available Capacity (Updated)

Updated July 6, 2016 at 5:10 pm: “Yonge Subway Now” has updated their website to remove the double counting of capacity improvements, and to clarify that their claims about subway capacity apply to the peak point south of Bloor Station. The revised text is included in the main article.

Although in theory there will remain 4% of free capacity on Yonge south of Bloor in 2031, this is hardly the sort of margin we should be planning for. The Relief Line’s demand projections show that it has a major effect if it runs north to Sheppard, and it will have to be in place sooner rather than later to avoid deadlock on the Yonge line.

A related problem is the question of station capacity to handle passengers with trains arriving about 30% more frequently than they do today.

York Region has wanted a subway to Richmond Hill for years, and there is even a completed Environmental Assessment and its Addendum for this project.

Today, July 5, 2016, a new website extolling the virtues of this project went live. It contains the usual things one would expect about the growing need for transportation and how a subway will improve the region’s future. Unfortunately, it also contains a misrepresentation of available and future subway capacity.

But what about overcrowding you say?

  • Metrolinx’s Yonge Relief Network Study analyzed options for crowding relief to the existing Yonge Subway line by examining new local and regional travel opportunities and improving mobility across the GTHA. Key findings include:
    • Significant relief to the Yonge Subway line will be achieved through already committed transit improvements, including:
      • TTC’s automatic train controls [adds 29% capacity];
      • New subway signals [adds 10% capacity];
      • New six-car subway trains [adds 10% capacity];
      • Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension [adds 5% capacity]; and
      • Regional Express Rail/SmartTrack/DRL will add even more capacity.
    • With the above capacity improvements in place the Yonge Subway line will be running under capacity when it opens and beyond 2031.
    • The Yonge North Subway Extension only adds 9% demand at peak period.

Updated July 7: The text above was the original version. The page now reads:

But what about overcrowding you say?

  • Metrolinx’s Yonge Relief Network Study analyzed options for crowding relief to the existing Yonge Subway line by examining new local and regional travel opportunities and improving mobility across the GTHA. Key findings include:
    • Significant relief to the Yonge Subway line will be achieved through already committed transit improvements, including:
      • TTC’s automatic train controls [adds 29% capacity];
      • Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension [diverts 1,300 riders to free up 5% capacity]; and
      • Regional Express Rail diverts 4,200 riders to free up 15% capacity.
    • With the above transit improvements in place the Yonge Subway line will be running under capacity when the extension opens in 2031.
    • The Yonge North Subway Extension has a projected ridership of 14,000 to 22,000, but is only expected to add 2,400 demand during the AM peak hour, at the peak point south of Bloor.

Let’s start off with the increased capacity for the Yonge Subway. The Metrolinx report cited here says (p 15) that the existing capacity is 28,000 passengers per hour per direction, and that by 2021 this will rise to 36,000.  That’s roughly a 29% increase, and is possible because of the new signal system which includes automatic train control. This will allow trains to run closer together, roughly every 110 seconds in place of the current 140 seconds.

Capacity of the new subway cars is already included in the 28k value as these trains have been exclusively providing service on the Yonge line for a few years. They no longer represent a marginal improvement that is still available. The design load for service planning (average loads over an hour, not peak loads on a train or car) for the new trains is 1,100 passengers. If trains run every 140 seconds, that is equivalent to 25.7 per hour or a capacity of about 28k/hour. Moving to a 110 second headway gives 32.7 trains/hour or a capacity of 36k/hour.

Traffic diverted to the TYSSE (Toronto York Spadina Subway Extension) at 5% of current capacity represents 1,400 per hour. This is in line with the value shown in the Metrolinx study (see chart below).

GO/RER has only a modest effect on the Yonge corridor because the Richmond Hill line is not part of the RER network, and other routes paralleling Yonge (the Barrie and Stouffville corridors) are too far away to have a meaningful impact. There is also the issue of the fare differential between GO/RER and the TTC which could discourage some riders from travelling on GO.

SmartTrack was originally claimed to be capable of subway-like service down to a 5 minute headway (12 trains/hour) that would serve Unionville and Milliken stations. However, we now know that “SmartTrack” will really be just a few more GO trains (part of the already planned RER improvement) stopping at a few more stations within Toronto, not the “subway like” operation some in York Region might have expected.

The Metrolinx study includes a chart showing the interaction of demand and capacity changes to 2031.

YongeNorthDemandProjection

The current 2015 demand is shown as higher than the actual capacity (31.2k vs 28.0k) based on the level of overcrowding now experienced on the line. The light blue dotted line shows the capacity before the new signal system is activated, and the solid blue line shows the added capacity. Even this will not be sufficient to handle the projected growth to 2031 absent other changes.

The TYSSE and other changes  are expected to shift 1,300 per hour from the Yonge line, and a further 4,200 would be attracted by GO/RER. This mostly, but not completely, offsets the anticipated growth so that by 2031 the “base case” demand is 32.3k, slightly higher than the demand today, but in less crowded conditions thanks to more trains/hour.

The Yonge North extension adds only 2,400 peak hour passengers and brings the line up to 96% capacity. Note that this is the peak hour average, and there will be some overcrowding due to variations over the hour.

This leaves no room for growth, but it also shows the paltry additional demand expected on a very expensive subway extension. Indeed, this makes the Scarborough extension to STC positively shine by comparison with 7,300 peak hour riders. The projected demand on the Richmond Hill line appears to be lower than the existing ridership of the SRT!

But things are really not that bad.

Those 2,400 are net new riders attracted by the subway in place of existing bus service. Total ridership will be a combination of then-current bus passengers feeding into Finch Station plus the 2,400 new riders.

Metrolinx shows that the “long” version of the Relief Line to Sheppard produces a sizeable reduction in projected demand on both the Yonge line and for the Bloor-Yonge transfer movements.

YongeReliefDemandEffects

If Metrolinx, Toronto and York Region are really serious about providing capacity for future extension and ridership growth on the Yonge Subway, then construction of a Relief Line is absolutely essential despite its cost.

Meanwhile, York Region should update its website to provide accurate claims about future changes to subway capacity. Blatant inaccuracy such as we see here are the marks of hucksterism designed to sell a project, not a professional representation of what is actually needed.

Update: The new version of the website addresses these issues, but I must wonder why the incorrect information appeared there in the first place.

Toronto’s Network Plan 2031: Part III, Fare Integration

This article is the third installment of my examination of reports going to Toronto Executive Committee and to the Metrolinx Board on June 28, 2016. For a complete list, see Part I of this series.

This article deals with two separate reports from the City of Toronto and from Metrolinx about Fare Integration. These two reports have quite different outlooks. For Metrolinx, there is an acknowledgement that any new fare policy will be difficult, but a determination to stay the course with their work plan and fare models. For Toronto, the focus is on the inequity of short versus medium and long-distance GO fares (a problem not just for Toronto as a node), and on the changes needed for GO to become more than a 905-to-Union Station commuter railway.

Additional material comes from the Metrolinx Fare Integration Advocacy Groups & Academics’ Workshop held on June 24, 2016. Presentations from this workshop are not yet online.

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A Cat’s Cradle of Transit Plans (Updated)

Updated June 6, 2016 at 11:30 pm: The chart of the demand profile for the Eglinton East LRT has been updated by City Planning to correct an error in labelling where inbound and outblound values were reversed. The new chart has been placed into this post, and the link to the source pdf has been updated below.

Public consultation sessions are coming to an end on the “motherlode” of transit projects (as they were described earlier this year by Toronto’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat). This process will soon bring a consolidated set of reports and recommendations for Council. So far, the presentations have been subdivided between various projects.

A major challenge for politicians, the media and the general public is to sort out all of these schemes and to understand how they all fit together. This is not just a question of how we will finance all of the projects, but of how each project and the choices made for it will affect everything else. Where typical studies in Toronto might have wrestled with whether a new line should go under street “A” or “B”, and where the stations might be located, today’s work requires understanding of how the network will evolve over time and how it will work as a whole in a few decades.

The process is complicated further by having municipal (City Planning & TTC) and provincial (Metrolinx) components, and the secretive nature of Metrolinx studies means that some vital information about its projects is not yet public. The Metrolinx reports are expected to appear on their Board’s agenda for June 28, and this implies public availability sometime in the preceding week.

The consolidated City reports should be available on June 21 when a briefing session is to occur at City Hall a week before the June 28 Executive Committee meeting.

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Ministerial Hot Air On Fare Integration

Today saw an exchange in the Ontario Legislature showing the true colours of the provincial government when it comes to an informed, intelligent discussion of fare integration in the GTHA. The full exchange is below lest anyone accuse me of quoting them out of context.

Ms. Andrea Horwath: My question is for the Acting Premier.

Throughout its history, TTC fares in Toronto have been based on the simple principle that every Torontonian deserves equal access to their transit system regardless of their income and regardless of where they live.

But now Metrolinx is quietly working on a fare integration plan that could force people living in Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York to pay a higher fare for a subway ride than people living downtown. Will the Liberal government guarantee that Metrolinx will not force people living in Scarborough to pay more to ride the subway?

Hon. Charles Sousa: Minister of Transportation.

Hon. Steven Del Duca: I want to thank the leader of the NDP for the question. Of course, as everyone should know by now, the folks at Metrolinx, who are doing an exceptional job, are working hard to liaise with all of our municipal transit systems around the greater Toronto and Hamilton area to make sure that, collectively, we can deliver on fare integration for this region.

I think anyone who moves around the greater Toronto and Hamilton area would recognize—and certainly I hear it loud and clear from my own constituents in York region—that we need to make sure, in order to support the unprecedented transit investments that this government is making, that we need a fare integration system across this entire region that works seamlessly, that makes transit more accessible, more affordable, more reliable and more dependable for the people of the entire region. That’s the work that Metrolinx is embarking upon in conjunction with all of our municipal transit systems. They will keep working hard, Speaker, to make sure that we can get it right.

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?

Ms. Andrea Horwath: Speaker, in fact, what Metrolinx has been quietly doing is designing a fare integration plan that could force the TTC to become a zone-based system that divides Torontonians based on where they live. So years from now, people in Scarborough might get a new subway but then find out that they can only afford to ride the bus.

Will the Liberal government guarantee that there will be no fare zones within Toronto, and that Metrolinx will not force the TTC to charge higher fares for subway riders?

Hon. Steven Del Duca: I guess only the leader of Ontario’s NDP would think somehow that after months of open conversations, after months in which every single board meeting has a public portion, only the leader of Ontario’s NDP would think that this is somehow hidden. It’s a conversation that’s been ongoing.

It’s part of my mandate letter which, of course, she should know. For the first time in Ontario’s history our mandate letters were posted publicly at the time that we received them, Speaker.

I think what’s also, perhaps, the reason that the leader of the NDP is mistaken about how supposedly hidden this effort is, Speaker, is that because while we are investing in transit through budget after budget after budget, that leader and the NDP caucus continue to vote against them. They are obviously more focused on petty partisan politics in Scarborough instead of being focused on making sure that they support the transit investments needed to deliver the seamless integrated transit network the people of this region and the people of Scarborough deserve.

Let’s get the historical inaccuracy in Horwath’s question out of the way first. The pre-Metro Toronto Transportation Commission used a single fare within the old City of Toronto, and supplementary fares beyond in what were then separate municipalities where the TTC provided some services. Some suburban bus routes were operated by private companies which charged their own fares. After the creation of Metro in 1954, the Toronto Transit Commission had fare zones roughly based on the old city and everything else, but these were abandoned in 1973 as part of the political deal for suburban municipalities helping to finance transit expansion through their Metro taxes.

I am no fan of Andrea Horwath, but she asks a legitimate question.

The Minister’s response is pure political hot air talking about the wonderful work at Metrolinx, and the wonderful spending on transit construction now underway, but utterly avoiding the issue of separate fares either for zones or classes of service within Toronto. Instead, he turns the question into one of “petty partisan politics” and fails to address the matter of whether Scarborough riders will pay more to ride their new subway whenever it opens.

One might ask the same question about the Minister’s constituents in York Region who will be heavily subsidized by Toronto Taxpayers to ride the Spadina extension to Vaughan.

GO/RER Details Emerge in Business Case Analysis

Metrolinx has published a set of documents containing the “Initial Business Case” for the GO Transit Regional Express Rail (GO/RER) network.

  • Summary
  • Full Report
  • Appendices A-J
    • A: Corridor Specifications
    • B: Corridor and System Schematics
    • C: Model Assumptions and Results
    • D: Record of Assumptions – Direct Demand Model
    • E: Financial Performance of RER Systems
    • F: Sensitivity Analysis
    • G: Wider Economic Benefits
    • H: Line Speed Analysis
    • I: Environmental Assessment Program
    • J: Fare Structure Issues and Solutions
  • Appendix K:  Station Access Analysis

[Note that except for the Summary, the documents are large PDFs.]

This article begins a review of these documents and of the various RER proposals examined in the Metrolinx studies.

Overview

Work on this review of GO/RER began in April 2014 following the announcement by Queen’s Park of its commitment to the RER concept. Unlike previous reports, this study looks in depth at all of the GO corridors, and reviews the technical issues associated with both increased service and electrification. This is not a final review, and much engineering work remains to be done, but there is a great deal more information now publicly available as the basis for discussions.

These documents were completed sometime in 2015 as is clear from references to future events that will occur later in the year, notably reports from the City of Toronto on SmartTrack. That scheme gets only passing mention, some of it the usual political cover story, because the specifics had yet to be decided. Exactly what the incremental effect of ST will be beyond the proposed GO/RER configuration is not yet known. Preliminary information in City reports implies that ST will amount to considerably less than was foreseen by the Tory election campaign, possibly as little as a few more stations and some sort of TTC/GO fare integration.

Five scenarios were reviewed to compare the effects, benefits, costs and technical issues associated with various possible future networks.

  1. The “Do Minimum” scenario provides only marginal peak period improvements to the existing system in response to projected demand growth, but with no electrification. This is effectively a “business as usual” model for the base case.
  2. The “Two-Way All-Day” scenario expands off peak service, but with diesel operation and no electrification. This is a minimal level of service expansion.
  3. The “10-Year Plan” would provide frequent service on the inner parts of some corridors, but with limited electrification.
  4. The “Full Build” extends beyond the 10-Year Plan to provide frequent service on the inner parts of all corridors, and with full electrification.
  5. The “10-Year Plan Optimized” extends the scope of electrification beyond that contemplated in scenario 3.

This progression implies a certain sequence of events during the study where a full build is impractical and the original 10-year plan was not aggressive enough with electrification, a key component of the announced government direction.

The estimated capital costs rise from $5 billion for scenario 1, through $10b, $12b and $19b for scenarios 2 to 4. The price tag for the latter is well above what Queen’s Park has available, and scenario 5 was developed with a projected cost of $13.5b. All but scenario 4 are said to be achievable by 2024. Given that it is now 2016, and this is a 10 year plan, that date probably requires some adjustment.

Scenario 5 is the 10-Year Plan Optimized, it represents significant progress towards implementing the service levels of Scenario 4. It goes beyond the investments and service included in Scenario 3 (10-Year Plan), with electrification also to Bramalea, Barrie, Stouffville and to Pearson Airport. This scenario and the resulting recommended RER program has been defined to maximize return on investment while mitigating risks. Depending on resolving various challenges, it can be delivered over 10 years for approximately $13.5 billion. It does not preclude, but rather prepares for, services to Milton and Kitchener to be eventually electrified and frequent all-day services introduced when agreement is reached on co-existence of GO and freight on these privately-owned corridors. [p. iv, Full Report]

Annual ridership is expected to go up by a factor of 2.5 over the coming 15 years, but operation costs will not rise at the same rate. The study postulates that an operating profit would be possible, eventually, but that will depend a lot on future fare policies, and on the evolution of trip patterns (length, direction, average fare). The ridership model foresees that “hundreds of thousands” of auto trips would be replaced by GO ridership each weekday comparing scenario 5 to scenario 1. The proportion of trips and its relationship to expected growth is not specified in the Executive Summary. (Possibly in the demand modelling later.)

The rate of demand increase on GO overall is projected at 2.3% which is lower than recent levels, but allows for some leveling off in a more mature service.

One big issue is the problem of getting riders physically to and from the GO trains. Either this will be done with substantially improved local transit services (an option that brings many issues associated with fare integration and cross-system subsidies), or with parking. The cost estimates include $750m for 15,000 new parking spaces, or $50k per space. At that scale, simply paving empty lots is not an option. The study notes the possibility that some of this cost “may not be necessary if service integration and fare integration with local transit services can be improved”. [p. v]

Those 15,000 spaces represent nowhere near the ratio of new parking spaces to existing facilities that the projected ridership growth would entail if everyone arrived by car. Parking charges are listed as a way of raising additional capital for the RER project, and of encouraging a shift to ride sharing and public transit feeder services.

It is amusing to read about the benefits of proven technology, something for which Ontario has not been noted in past endeavours.

Virtually all of the works are within existing rail corridors, so environmental and community impacts are limited mostly to noise and vibration. RER will use proven technology that is working around the world. [p. v]

Descriptions of RER cite similar operations in more than 50 city regions worldwide [page 6], and list a number of factors that simplify implementation [p. 4]. I cannot help thinking of how badly past studies have downplayed the benefits of LRT which bears a family resemblance, but at a local rather than a regional level.

The first electric railway opened in 1883 (the Volks Tourist Railway on the Brighton seafront in the U.K.). Ever since that time, electric traction has increasingly become the default source of power for the world’s more intensively used rail systems. [p. 14]

Finding this statement in a Metrolinx report is quite amusing considering some of the remarks made during community meetings on electrification before Metrolinx and GO “got religion” on the subject. The report skirts that debate by observing that GO is now at the threshold where electrification makes sense:

Until recently, diesel traction has been the appropriate mode of traction for the GO rail operation. However, the service enhancements envisaged in the near future will take GO rail beyond the threshold of service intensity appropriate for electrification. Continued use of diesel traction will become a source of financial and economic inefficiency. [p. 14]

Metrolinx intends to pursue discussions with the railways regarding the upgrades needed on their trackage, and also intends to review “modern, proven technology” with Transport Canada and the railways.

This is an “initial” analysis, and changes are likely depending on the evolution of expectations, changes in provincial funding, and who knows what political meddling that could arise.

A decade is a long time in politics, and the likelihood that the current governing parties or councillors will still be in place at that distant time is minuscule. Moreover, changes could come at any level part way through the project, and only a very strong, unshakeable commitment (i.e. very popular and difficult to derail) is likely to survive. This is not simply a case of showing up for a photo op or two with a gigantic prop cheque, but of supporting the plan for the long haul, including building a constituency that can survive beyond current governments. The arrival of a Ford-equivalent who simply wanted to start over with his own plan would be disastrous.

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A Rainbow of Rapid Transit

In Toronto’s never-ending fascination with new transit maps, the City Planning department has released a vision for our rapid transit network as it will be in 15 years.

201602_15YrPlan

Despite much talk of “evidence-based” planning, this is a very political map, and I cannot help remembering then-Premier David Peterson’s announcement of 1990 (not long before he lost an election and Bob Rae wound up as his much-surprised replacement) that amounted to a chicken-in-every-pot map.

There is nothing wrong with network-based planning, and indeed I have been beating a well-worn drum on that subject for years. But let us also remember that the Scarborough Subway exists because of the political clout of Brad Duguid, a former City Councillor, now Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development. Mayor John Tory, in Toronto Life, cites Duguid as saying that “if anyone tries to cancel the [Scarborough] subway, they’ll do it over his dead body”. “Evidence” apparently includes having a large cudgel to keep wandering pols in line.

The map also includes the Mayor’s pet project, SmartTrack, and it’s no wonder that he steers clear of the Minister’s position given the need for a provincial agency, Metrolinx, to accommodate SmartTrack on their network.

All of this is part of the “Motherlode” of public consultation sessions now running in various places around the City, and through Metrolinx in the wider GTHA. Background information and links to related material are available at Toronto’s TransitTO web site.

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How Will SmartTrack and GO/RER Co-exist?

Metrolinx has published an update on studies of how the proposed SmartTrack service will be integrated with its own GO/RER (Regional Express Rail) offering. This will be considered at their board meeting on February 10.

This covers several issues, and begins to nail down just what SmartTrack might, or might not, resemble that is beyond the scale of postcard election literature. As we already know, major changes are planned to the western leg where the Crosstown West LRT will take over the function proposed for SmartTrack beyond Mt. Dennis. To the east, SmartTrack remains in the GO Stouffville corridor, but the Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) has been scaled back to a one-stop line serving only the Town Centre, and the Crosstown East LRT will provide service to eastern Scarborough.

What is GO RER?

WhatIsRER

This graphic is amusing for its complete contrast with the way that Metrolinx/GO presented electrification of their services during early days of public consultation. That hit a low point when it was suggested that electric trains might not work in snow.

Note that the official line now is that lots of cities use this type of service, and that electrification is an integral part of the package.

Metrolinx owes us all an apology for their initial foot-dragging and misinformation campaign. Now if only they had been more supportive of LRT during the dark days of Rob Ford.

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Metrolinx Fare Integration: Get Ready to Pay More For Subway Trips

One of the great mysteries surrounding the roll out of Presto on the TTC has been the whole debate about “Regional Fare Integration”. Now and then, discussion papers surface at Metrolinx, but folks at the TTC, especially the politicians, are strangely silent on the subject. “Wait and see” is the order of the day.

Well, folks, we have waited and now we are beginning to see the direction Metrolinx is heading in for a consolidated GTHA-wide fare structure. The results will not please folks in suburban Toronto or the inner 905 for whom long subway trips are a routine part of their commutes.

The Metrolinx Board will consider an update on this subject at its meeting on February 10.

The presentation is in a sadly familiar Metrolinx format: lots of wonderful talk about consultation and fairness, and philosophical musings about what a fare system should look like. One big omission is any evaluation of the relative numbers of riders who would be affected by various schemes, and even worse of any sense of calibration of the fares to produce different results.

This comes at a time when we know from SmartTrack demand studies the importance of fare levels in attracting ridership. It is important here to remember that we are not talking the relatively small differences between types of TTC fares, or year-by-year increments, but the much larger deltas between TTC fares and those on GO Transit.

The problem begins with the arbitrary segmentation of the travel market into “local”, “rapid transit” and “regional transit”.

201602_DefiningServiceTypes

This is a wonderful theoretical view of the world that might find a home in a sophomoric academic paper, but it ignores the very real world in which (a) “rapid transit” today only exists within Toronto and (b) Toronto decided over 40 years ago that “local” trips paid one fare regardless of the mode they used. The entire system is designed on this principle, one that has consistently evaded Metrolinx planners.

If only the world were so simple. Why is Bus Rapid Transit omitted from this list? Why is a streetcar (aka LRT) on right of way “rapid transit”, but not a bus? How close must subway or LRT stops be to each other for the service to drop back to a lower tier? Conversely, if someone slaps a “19x” route number on a bus, should it become “rapid transit”?

The basic problem with this world view is that transit modes, especially bus and streetcar/LRT, have a wide range of overlapping implementations.

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GO Transit Electrification Study Public Meetings

Metrolinx has announced a series of meetings for public participation in the TPAP (streamlined Environmental Assessment for Transit Projects) for their GO Rail Network Electrification Study.

Four of these overlap with sessions previously announced by City Planning for other projects under review:

  • Tuesday February 16: John Vanier school in Scarborough
  • Wednesday February 24: Metro Toronto Convention Centre in downtown Toronto
  • Wednesday March 9: Lakeshore Collegiate in Etobicoke
  • Tuesday March 22: Nelson Mandela Park school in Toronto

The area of this study covers only the trackage already owned by Ontario through Metrolinx.